You’re learning French, and that’s great!
Whatever your level is, from complete beginner to advanced learner, French people will love that you’re trying to speak their language.
But you’re (still) making mistakes, and that makes you embarrassed. You lose confidence, and so you’re afraid to try to improve. And that sucks!
Don’t worry: here is some actionable advice to get the conversation started on the right foot – for your specific level.
Learning goals: In this French lesson, you will learn the exact French phrases you need to get French people to forgive your mistakes. You’ll see how to gracefully start a conversation or keep it going. And, if you wish, how to make French people keep speaking French to you (=not switch back to English).
Bonjour c’est Géraldine, Bienvenue sur Comme une Française. C’est parti !
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1) You’re a complete beginner: You’ve never studied French at all before.
If you know ZERO French, don’t worry. If you only want to better enjoy your trip to Paris, there’s no need to dive into the conjugations or pronouns!
A few sentences can already go a long way:
Bonjour ( = hello)
S’il vous plaît ( = please)
Merci ( = thank you)
Je ne parle pas français ( = I don’t speak French)
Vous parlez anglais? ( = Do you speak English?)
(Learn the pronunciation in the video!)
You’ll still speak English for your conversation. But it shows you tried, and that’s what important!
French people will like it. They don’t always like that you’re assuming they speak English (even though you probably won’t meet many French people who don’t).
Especially in shops! A simple “Bonjour,” even with your accent, signals that you’re kind enough to follow the basic French rules of politeness.
2) You’re a beginner: You vaguely remember high school French lessons
If you’re a beginner in French, you might already know some basic sentences.
Tip #1: Use these sentences! People will like you more if you try and fail, rather than if you don’t try at all.
Tip #2: Aim for simple sentences. Break down what you want to say.
Tip #3: If you need directions, instructions or precise information (or if you’re struggling to make a point), switch back to English. French people know that French is difficult, and they struggle with high school English too!
Tip #4: About one week before your trip to France, refresh your memory with the Earworm App. It’s useful and really well-done, I recommend it.
A few specific sentences can also help you smooth out any flaws in your speech:
J’ai appris le français à l’école, il y a longtemps. ( = I learned French at school a long time ago)
J’essaye de m’y remettre. ( = I’m trying to start again.)
Je voudrais parler français comme vous parlez anglais. ( = I’d love to speak French like you speak English)
Je vais faire des progrès, promis! ( = I’ll improve, I promise)
And one last thing: be careful of the classic embarrassing mistakes French learners often make without realizing it!
3) You’re intermediate: You mostly know how to say what you want in French (but you’re lacking the confidence to do it)
At some point, speaking French stops being “that fun thing I’m starting”. You’re being held to a higher standard. French people start talking fast and assume you still understand.
That can be scary!
Now on the one hand, French people will love speaking French with you. They don’t care about your mistakes, I promise. They won’t think less of you at all! On the other hand though, some French people won’t take the time to empathize with your struggles anymore. It’s “sink or swim” !
Tip #1: Practice! It gets easier, I promise. You can listen to some good natural French in media.
– Engrenages (“Spiral” in the US), a French TV show that’s available on Netflix
– The delightful bestseller book Le Petit Prince…
– TV5 Monde, the international French TV channel!
Tip #2: Useful sentences you can use to keep the conversation going, and not get held back by misunderstandings and scary blanks:
C’est comme ça qu’on dit ? ( = Is this how you say it?)
Je suis en France pour [deux semaines]. ( = I’m in France for [2 weeks])
Je fais de mon mieux. ( = I do my best)
Excusez-moi, vous pouvez répéter plus lentement ? ( = Excuse me, could you repeat more slowly?)
Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire [trucmuche]? ( = What does [this word] mean? It means “whatshisname”)
If you use these sentences, they’ll compliment your French! You only have to answer with a smile and “Merci, c’est très gentil” (= Thank you, that’s very nice of you.)
The extra mile: Prepare for the specific situations you’re going to find yourself in – with these basic scripts and sentences you can use in a French restaurant, for instance.
4) You’re an advanced student: Your French can express anything (but is a bit stiff)
You have no problem saying anything you want to say in French. You know the conjugations. You read Victor Hugo in French for fun.
That’s wonderful! And impressive!
Now, there’s still a common problem I see in students, even at an advanced level. Your French might be a bit… stiff. You might sound a little like a textbook!
It’s not really a problem for any formal conversation or day-to-day life. But you might enjoy going the extra mile. Let’s make your French sound like everyday French!
French people will mostly treat you like one of their own, but there are still sentences you can use to surprise and delight them at an advanced level:
Le français, c’est mon dada. ( = French is my hobby)
C’est un plaisir de parler français avec vous. ( = It’s a pleasure to speak French with you)
J’adore votre langue. ( = I love your language… or “your tongue” but that’s for another situation)
Ça roule ! / Ça marche ! ( = That works for me!)
Volontiers. / Avec plaisir. (= Yes please. My pleasure. Gladly. ← elegant French for “yes”)
C’est chouette (=That’s cool, fun)
Find more useful sentences in:
5 Easy Expressions That Will Help You Pass For French
5 Weird French Expressions to Sound Like a Native
— The other way —
Another way to impress and delight French people is to know more about French culture! Not the Godard, Edith Piaf and other (great) well-known French artists, no.
But the fables of La Fontaine, French history, and the small things all French people learn in school. The knowledge every French person shares, that they don’t really speak about with foreigners.
Let’s see what you learned in today’s lesson: do you know what these French words mean? (Their English translation, or better yet, a French alternative)
– s’y remettre
– faire de mon mieux
– trucmuche (français familier, argot)
– un dada
You’ll find the answer in the video!
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→ Which phrase will you use in your next French conversation?
Try to answer in French in the comment section, I’d love to hear from you!
“La prochaine fois que je veux demander une précision en français, je vais utiliser la question “C’est comme ça qu’on dit ?”.” (= “Next time I want to ask for a correction in French, I’ll use the question “Is this how you say it?””)
I’ll give you pointers for your mistakes and read all your replies on the blog!
→ If you enjoyed this lesson (and/or learned something new) – why not share this lesson with a francophile friend? You can talk about it afterwards! You’ll learn much more if you have social support from your friends 🙂
→ Double your Frenchness! Get my 10-day “Everyday French Crash Course” and learn more spoken French for free. Students love it! Start now and you’ll get Lesson 01 right in your inbox, straight away.
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Allez, salut 🙂